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Teenage robot builders rule in Japan

By ELIZABETH CIEPIELA

Staff writer

It was the opportunity of a lifetime for a few Federal Way students.

On July 25, teacher David Brower and six of the students in his Japanese language class left for an 11-day trip to Japan to create robots and compete in a junior robotics competition. The trip was fully funded by Federal Way’s sister city in Japan, Hachinohe.

By the time the students returned to the States, they were robotics competition winners and had made international pen pals –– Japanese, British, French and Australian.

“The memories from Japan (will) stick in my mind forever,” student Hayley Johnson said. “When I look back, I will just smile.”

Joshua Eubanks, a former Federal Way student and now an employee of Hachinohe, invited Brower and his Illahee Junior High School students to participate in the first international junior robotics competition held in Japan.

“They wanted to have the Americans there,” Brower said. During the trip, the students “were great representatives for our country,” he said.

The students — Cortney Lane, Cory Hoffman, Kinga Lenda, Jeremy Cabitac, Johnson and Dustin Martin — spent the first 10 days building robots from scratch, with guidance from Japanese technicians and translators. They often worked 10-hour days and spent their limited free time visiting sightseeing and trying new foods, like squid.

Robotics teams were made up of two Americans and several international students. That way, the international students got to work and communicate together. Some have become electronic pen pals.

On Aug. 3, the students got to test their mettle and their robots.

Lenda and partner Cabitac built an elephant-shaped robot that sucked a ball up through its trunk. The ball would roll down a ramp inside the robot, then out a door. Next, a windmill-styled device would hit the ball, causing it to roll up a ramp and into its target — a basket. They won the second-place prize for creativity.

Grand-prize winners Johnson and Martin built a seagull, a bird common to Hachinohe. Along with their Japanse teammates, the two thought the symbol would honor the city, and the crowd loved it, they reported.

The seagull would bend down, pick up a ball with its beak, flap its wings as it walked around the arena at Hachinohe Civic Center, and finally would place a ball in a basket.

Hoffman and Lane built a robot that scooped up balls and flicked them onto a conveyer belt. They earned recognition for creativity and completeness.

“It was a wonderful experience, one I will never forget,” Lane said. She said she admired that Japanese culture emphasizes respect and kindness toward others.

Hoffman said Tokyo was amazing but he didn’t like the local cuisine, which featured a lot of squid and seafood. He also made several international friends, including a girl from Hachinohe. He plans to return to Japan some day.

The students’ robots remained in Japan, where they are on display at a shopping center in Hachinohe.

Staff writer Elizabeth Ciepiela: 925-5565, eciepiela@fedwaymirror.com

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